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January 20, 2012 / the s.a. project

The slutty MA pops again

Much as the little world around it tries everything to make this pregnancy as difficult as possible, the MA (Hons.) Visual Arts at NCA has popped its 11th baby. The Class of 2010-2011 graduated last week, January 2012. This post is long and has many pictures so grab a cuppa chai and take out some time to browse it. 

I might sound like a broken record when I relate the same stories that we suffered when our batch graduated. Space wars, display date dilemmas, nervous breakdowns and respect issues. All fought and sustained on the NCA battle turf. Yet again the show seems to be cowering in the bowels of the far more renowned, far larger and far more elaborate Bachelors thesis. Don’t get me wrong. That happens to be my favourite time of the year too. But at the expense of the glamour kitty, the street urchins really do get the boot. FYI: The Bachelors Thesis is currently on display at NCA. 

The current MA class went through many labour pains despite the tireless efforts put in by a handful of dedicated faculty members. Their thesis dates were shifted around so many times they got dizzy marking their calendars. Tutors were impossible to find and sign on. A preponement nearly gave one or two a heart attack and some considered pulling out and displaying next year instead. A plan to display with the BFA thesis went to the dogs. Yet the show did go on and was displayed in the three Zahoor-ul-Iklhaq galleries, store-room and the Main Courtyard. It was curated by Dr. Atteqa Ali. (They were also asked to pull down their show early on the last exhibit date because the galleries were needed for the BFA work…but no more on that. I’m keeping my bitter pill for me this time.) 

Now to the work, of which I have sadly only seen pictures myself. I was lucky enough to be constantly updated by a few of the students who kept me posted with photographs of artworks in progress and display plans. Because I was unable to experience the works in actuality there is little to what I can say on execution and finesse. NCA theses (BFA/MA) have been making leaps and bounds in their display skills ever since they were rudely pinched in their soft buttocks by the much more savvy students of BNU. Now BNU thesis displays are something to talk about. Some might say its just the amount of exposure – one lacks it, the other overdoses on it. However, a balance of some sorts is being achieved in the last few years. But what NCA students need most to focus on is that a finished artwork and its display context speaks volumes about the artist.

Reading Salman Toor’s review in The Friday Times, it seems that the issue is not with the how the work has been done and executed. After detailed descriptions of the work and a polite sendoff he writes: No work in this show seems to strive towards defying classification itself, towards generating new forms. And this is confirmed when you read the artists’ statements in the slim catalogue for the show. They don’t read much. They think about their work in terms of feeling, but not yet in terms of the starkly lucid art-speak with which art history is being written every day. 

To some extent I agree and disagree with him equally. I too felt that much of the display relied heavily on classic clichés that perhaps become tiresome for the art community that has seen it, been there, printed it and stuck it to their bathroom door. But I do disagree on the last line. I do know that many of them read, and not just cheap fiction. Additionally, just like painting seems to be going IN and OUT of the art scene, contemporary arts have somehow made it criminal to be emotionally vested in art-making. Last it was seen and heard of in the late 80’s.

Sarah Mumtaz - Performance

Stemming from Toor’s comment on no performance star to be seen, I would really like to jump in with my completely opinionated views! Sarah Mumtaz‘s performance piece is bold, brave and her own. It doesn’t stem from another, neither does it have to promise a future. She sits in a sparkling blue dress (disturbingly scanty) and pushes a needle and thread through her stocking-ed legs to sew row upon row of stitches. She talks in a monologue, while recorded conversations between her and a boy play in the background. She keeps repeating to herself  that everything will be ok. The mantra starts slow, builds up in rhythm and volume until she is shrieking and crying. Her entire upper body, arms and facial expressions are agitated, while her limp legs remain silently still. She supports herself with the chair when she gets up, embracing her physical disabilities as what defines her past, present and future. It is intense and has moved many to tears in the internal juries as well as the public performances. It also leaves people feeling extremely uncomfortable and unsure as to how they should react.

Performing Arts (in the field of Arts and not dance/theater), is not a very common medium in our art schools and rarely seen in galleries/exhibition spaces. There is no actual degree in it, and little to none exposure of performing artists. So when I see an artist perform a devastatingly personal and vulnerable piece, even I know when to put my critical pen down and use my hands to clap instead.

But I’m glad that Toor spoke out what he felt and saw. There is very little straightforward talk in reviews these days. Toor has had good international and national exposure working with various artists and galleries and he speaks from his personal experience (that so far has been saved from the famous Lahore politics methinks!) He also made many visual inspiration connections that were obvious – Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq, Rashid Rana, Mehreen Murtaza and Faiza Butt – painfully so, as some of these students have been very unhappy with these labels and the apparent downgrading of their creative process.

The Express Tribune has a rather tame review that titles the entirety of the work under ‘Dark, demented and grotesque’. Read it if you must. It’s about the only other coverage the show got. SO many bones to pick with the writers that seem to be present everywhere but the MA thesis, every year. 

I was given the honour of writing for their catalogue – alongside their tutors/teachers/mentors  Sajjad Kausar (Principal NCA), Murtaza Jafri (Director MA Visual Arts), Saamia Ahmed (Coordinator), Laila Reman (Printmaker/Associate Professor), Dr. Atteqa Ali (Curator/H.O.D Cultural Studies), R.M.Naeem (Painter/Assistant Professor)and I went off on a little happy rant that was printed here.

I also got to work in detail online with Mohsin of the family picture wall and Maria of the wild-eyed corpulent charcoal ladies. Mizna‘s work took me most by surprise because I had not seen this direction of hers. Trained as a miniature artist, Mizna was experimenting with medium and form from day 1 at the programme (or maybe day 14?) so maybe I should have known she wouldn’t stick to the ordinary. Irfan‘s foray into installation was perhaps expected as he was looking to expand his practice into uncharted territories. However the old TV set of Amra, Sarah and Irfan became too similar as one thought, even if it was not deliberate. Imrana returned to her roots of textile after much fumbling in the programme, Esmaeil worked in his maddening solitude to produce metal sculptural forms that I had seen developing over time, and Rabiya jumped to a whole new level.

But it is how Imrana and Mohsin had trouble merging their textile/graphics background in the MA programme, and Esmaeil his new-found creative freedom in Pakistan, that pointed out some fatal flaws in the current coursework that put these three through some terrible anxiety attacks over the past 2 years….

Aaaaahh there is much, SO much to say. But perhaps I’ll save it for another post.

Presenting the works of 9 contemporary artists, practicing in the field of Visual and Performing Arts, here is the graduating class of MA (Hons.) Visual Arts, NCA.


–> MORE IMAGES can be seen here at the Public photo album on facebook.


Visit The s.a. Project facebook page for more regular updates or join me on my adventures on twitter – SairaAnsariPK


Leave a Comment
  1. nyrah / Jan 20 2012 11:13 am

    actually this time the m.a. students got the better deal their display was perfect meanwhile the bfa students had no proper space NO LIGHTING ! a few of them had to display in the drafting studio and it’s corridor ! without the windows being bordered up *shudder* ,there were students who were told that the designated display space has been changed at four in the morning on the day of the opening ! so i’d say the m.a. students had an easy breezy time compared to bfa students! and quite frankly in terms of work the m.a. students out did themselves they were probably coolest batch ever =)

    • the s.a. project / Jan 20 2012 5:03 pm

      I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear that you called them the ‘coolest batch ever’, Nyrah! The MA studios usually feel very unloved.
      Why oh why was there so much chaos in the BFA this time?
      And do you know anyone who’s posted photographs of the BFA thesis on facebook and has the album on public settings? I ‘d love to share it here.

  2. Hashim / Jan 20 2012 2:26 pm

    I agree with Nyrah. The MA batch did an extremely great job, much better than the BFA batch.
    And i do agree with you Saira, that performance art especially in Pakistani art scene is not very popular or is seldom seen. All of the artist I believed tried to explore new things and I personally think that they succeeded.Their works evoked a whirlpool of feelings.
    Some of them could have easily been successful pieces at the Vience Biennale.

  3. alynaqvi / Jan 20 2012 11:10 pm

    Please post a critical review next time. *wink*

    • the s.a. project / Jan 23 2012 7:22 am

      if this meant sarcastically: yes, yes WHAAAY NOT!

      if you mean it seriously: I will when i see the work in front of me in its actual physicality.

      But since you winked, I’m going to go with ‘yes, yes WHAAAY NOT!’

  4. Maria Khan / Jan 21 2012 7:46 pm

    thanks a lot people 🙂 really!!

  5. kiran / Jan 22 2012 11:19 pm


  6. noreen alvi / Jan 22 2012 11:23 pm

    The post sounds a little narcissistic to me. I understand that it is more about your personal interpretation that how you think about the degree show over all, but I feel that it must have been more about the artworks and not about the BNU and NCA stratagems. Also you compared a little too much with toor’s writing, which was not needed. AND YES a slightly pleasanter and more comprehensive review on works will be nice for next post 🙂

    • the s.a. project / Jan 23 2012 7:19 am

      Thanks for your comment. Narcissistic tau mein bachpan se thi :P. But in all honestly, this blog is meant to be about my interpretations and views and not newspaper style reviews. And it tends to focus on situations surrounding the act of art-making. Also, I like discussing BNU and NCA stratagems because a lot of the blog readers are art students and it helps them to see what the other is doing and hopefully improve their own practice.

      Additionally, I used Toor’s review as a discussion piece because it was the only one out there. I would have added in more pieces if I found any. And his writing helped me get a discussion going.

      Also, pleasant ka kya kerna? The newspapers art columns are for that kind of droll reading.

  7. umar / Jan 25 2012 11:41 pm
  8. qureshi / Jan 30 2012 11:15 am

    i love your blog.


  1. The slutty MA pops again | Tea Break

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